Eat a Rainbow began seventeen years ago as a Co-op employee’s contribution to her child’s classroom and as an opportunity for the children in the community to learn more about the fresh, healthy foods she worked with every day. She gave tours of the store with samples of fresh foods and education about whole grains and whole foods. Teachers were thrilled to have an opportunity to promote healthy, delicious foods and discovered that students became more interested in and willing to eat healthy foods when they participated in the preparation so we took it to the schools, making fruit salads in classrooms throughout the county. As the demand grew, we expanded our offerings to include vegetable and grain salads, bread making and more. In 2012 we subcontracted Eat a Rainbow to a local non-profit that provides school garden education through a program called ‘Digging In’. The partnership has blossomed, creating opportunities for students to experience seed to table food education. Additionally, we are working with the school district to introduce students to new foods such as kale and quinoa through Eat a Rainbow classroom visits before they find them in the lunch line. With greater involvement and familiarity we expect to see more fresh produce being consumed, rather than wasted.
Each year Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative budgets approximately $1,000 for Eat a Rainbow staff and supplies, including food. We are seeing an increased demand from educators for garden and nutrition education, with more classrooms requesting activities than we can afford. During each store tour students receive samples of local, unusual or seasonal produce. They also visit American Valley Baking, a separate business housed in the same building as the Co-op. Eat a Rainbow benefits from the support of many volunteers who assist program coordinators with classroom lessons and store tours. Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative frequently offers nutrition and agriculture focused children’s activities at local events such as Earth Day and the Homegrown Festival.
Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative contracts with Mountain Passages’ Digging In program to offer elementary school students in Plumas County hands-on nutrition education activities that include the preparation and sampling of healthy snacks. These classes introduce students to new foods and the benefits of eating fresh, local and seasonal produce while at the same time making cooking fun. Digging In, an agroecology education program of Mountain Passages, provides experiential education opportunities to elementary school students in Quincy and Greenville in the areas of agricultural sustainability, local food systems and healthy lifestyles. The collaboration between Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative and Mountain Passages for the implementation of the Eat-a-Rainbow program provides valuable hands-on nutrition classes and enhanced seed to table experiences for students of Plumas County.
Demand for Eat-a-Rainbow classes from Plumas County schools is overwhelming - 27 classes were requested in the spring of 2013! During the spring 2013 semester, 13 classes were offered and 322 students served. In addition to the Eat-a-Rainbow classes 31 nutrition related garden classes were offered as part of the Digging In program. Total Nutrition Classes (Eat-a-Rainbow + Digging In): 44 Students Reached: 697 Total Student Hours: 1,097 The opportunity to incorporate Eat a Rainbow nutrition classes into the Digging In curriculum encouraged the program coordinators to enhance the garden-based nutrition education component of the program. Studies have shown that both garden classes and nutrition education increase participants’ consumptions of fruits and vegetables. Garden-based nutrition education, however, increases regular consumption of fruits and vegetables more than either type of class on its own. A few highlights of the spring 2013 semester included: • Students in a kindergarten class running to locate the whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables in their lunches following an Eat-a-Rainbow class • 2nd grade students enthusiastically identifying all the parts of the plants in their quinoa salad • 4th - 6th graders admitting that they would be more willing to eat whole wheat bread after helping to make a loaf and learning about the anatomy and nutrition of a grain of wheat
“Concern for community and educating the public are two of the seven cooperative principles adopted by cooperatives worldwide. We educate our local youth about food, nutrition and agriculture because education is the key to changing our world for the better. Eat a Rainbow serves both public and private schools and allows students to experience foods in a way that changes the way they think about food. It helps them to make better choices for themselves and their world.” Lucinda Berdon, Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative General Manager